What's happened in the two months that I haven't written this? Well, the A's
have sucked offensively, that's what. After Tim Hudson couldn't get the job
done yesterday, ending a seven-game winning streak (for the team), the A's are
6.5 games back of Seattle (though they're 7 up on Anaheim), and a game ahead of
Boston and Toronto in the Wild Card. Their record places them sixth in
baseball, which is pretty good considering they haven't made their "second half
So, let's take a look at the components of the A's current position. We'll
start with team-wide stuff, then move to individual reports. First, defense.
How on earth did this happen? The A's have the second best defensive
efficiency rating in all of baseball, just a hair behind the Mariners.
They've been turning about 74% of batted balls into outs, while the average AL
team is around 71%. That's maybe around an extra out every game, just from
A big part of this is getting Terrence Long out of center. Having Chris
Singleton roaming around out there with Long in left and Dye in right turns a
lot of doubles into outs. Of course, Long's inability to hit has meant Adam
Piatt getting some time in left, which hurts the defense a little. Also,
though, we have Eric Byrnes absolutely ripping the ball (967 OPS), basically
forcing management to stop ignoring him. He's been playing at Singleton's
expense a lot, and though in my one personal viewing of him, he seems to get
terrible jumps, he looks better out there than the reports of Long sounded, and
the coaching staff says that his defense has improved. Dye's leg has been
bothering him, which probably hurts his range, and also forces him to DH or sit
more often than he normally would. Long or Singleton have been replacing him,
though, so the defensive hit is probably minimal.
The infield defense has been pretty good for awhile, with Eric Chavez emerging
as one of the best in the game at third, Miguel Tejada playing a steady
shortstop, Mark Ellis being surprisingly good at second, and Scott Hatteberg
playing better than expected at first.
Who would have thought we'd come to this after the years of Blowers, Stairs,
Spiezio, Ernie Young, and so on?
Have the A's been lucky or unlucky to get the record they have now? Clay
Davenport created a three-layered method of looking at this question. First, we
ask what a team's record should be given their runs scored and allowed (using
the Pythagorean or Pythagenport method). Then we ask whether a team's hitting
and pitching components would predict that they'd score and allow as many runs
as they did. Finally, we ask about the quality of the team's opponents, and see
whether they would score and allow more or less runs against an "average"
So, from this
page, we see that:
The A's record is predicted almost exactly by their runs: 42-30 vs.
42.1-29.9, using Pythagenport.
They've scored a few more and allowed a few more runs than the components
would suggest, so that their second-order record is also almost precisely the
same as their real record.
Adjusting for quality of opponent reverses the depressed effect on the
second order, though, pushing expected runs scored to within 2 runs of the truth
and expected runs allowed to within 3. This, then, predicts the A's record,
again, almost exactly.
So the A's record pretty much reflects the quality of the team at this juncture.
The Mariners aren't significantly better than they "should" be, either, as they
are 0.7, 1.1, and 1.6 games better than expected on the first, second, and third
What about the individuals who have brought the team to this point? First, who
is no longer around? Mark Johnson, who was hardly getting any playing time, was
sent down in favor of Adam Melhuse, who's probably a little better with the bat
and is also more of a utility player. Micah Bowie is on the DL and Aaron Harang
is up. Harang has been put in the rotation, though, pushing John Halama into
the bullpen after the team finally got tired of his mediocrity. Finally, Ron
Gant was let go and Billy McMillon was brought back up. Gant proved (again)
that he can't get around on major league pitching anymore, and he's not exactly
a guy you'd use as a defensive replacement, so a sort-of Phelps All Star gets
another shot with the A's.
Let's start with the bad first: the offense.
Ramon Hernandez has been a surprise. He's having his best season yet, reversing
a few years of decline by posting an 806 OPS, .280 EqA, 13.3 RARP (9th for
catchers) line so far. His walk rate is the worst it's ever been, at about a
walk every 17.5 PA's, though he's seeing as many pitches per plate appearance as
he ever has. His batting average, though, is the best it's ever been, at .284.
His power has also come around, not solely driven by average, as his SLG is
almost 200 points higher than his average. Also, his nine homers and 13 doubles
are the most he's had in a first half in his career. He's already passed last
year's pitiful seven total home runs. All in all, it's nice to see Hernandez
finally fulfilling some of his potential.
Mark Johnson really got no shot, only getting 30 PA's before being banished to
Raley Field. That said, he managed to make outs in 23 of those 30, leading to a
.114 EqA and -2.3 RARP. That's right ahead of Dan Wilson, though Wilson took
five times more plate appearances to hurt his team that much. Johnson is a
walks fiend (one every 8.8 PA's) and he got three this year, but the big problem
was a .115 batting average. Just three hits in 26 AB's wasn't getting the job
done. Of course, 30 plate appearances is no kind of sample, so it's hardly fair
to judge him at this point. Hernandez has been hitting too well all season to
bench him very much, though, so it's a tough situation for Ken Macha.
Adam Melhuse has been better, with a .209 EqA in 21 PA's. He's grabbed two
walks in that time, and hit a homer and a double. It's really hard to say
anything about him, though, and he probably won't log enough time this year to
make any declarations about his ability as a major leaguer, though I seem to
recall that he's been a pretty good hitter in the minors throughout his career.
Scott Hatteberg has been off. He's 22nd among first basemen with just 4.6 RARP.
His .265 EqA is disappointing following his .292 mark from last year. One
problem is that he's seeing less pitches this year. He's slightly under four
pitches per apperance, after seeing 4.15 last year, 4.09 the year before, and
4.22 in 2000. Are pitchers challenging him more? Perhaps. Maybe, though, his
2002 batting average was an upward fluctuation, and this year is a regression to
his norm. He's a career .270 hitter, and he's closer to that mark than he was
last year. His home run power is off, with just one every 50 at bats or so, but
his doubles are up. What's hurt the most, though, is that his walk rate has
fallen from .121 to .108. If he were walking at the same rate as last year,
he'd gain about 13 points of OBP. I guess to sum it up, this is looking like a
down year for Hatteberg, from a lower batting average to less patience to less
power. Of course, maybe it all stems from the decrease in patience, though that
could be traced back to pitchers having made adjustments and Hatteberg not
having adjusted to that yet. Right now, he's on pace to lose about 15 EqR from
last year. That's not a huge amount, but it's a win and a half, and it
Erubiel Durazo has been a very nice addition. He's stayed healthy and produced,
putting up a .310 EqA, giving him 18.8 RARP, behind only Frank Thomas and Edgar
Martinez among hitters in the "other" category. Durazo's 885 OPS is actually
lower than his previous two years, but part of that may be explainable by park
factors: Oakland traditionally plays as a pitcher's park, while the BOB is a
nice hitting environment. While Durazo's home runs are down, his doubles are
way up (this might be the biggest effect the A's park has had, though I'm
speculating wildly here). His walk rate of .161 is the second highest of his
career, behind last year's .181. That walk rate may have declined due to
getting more pitches to hit, though, as he's seeing almost exactly as many
pitches in each PA as he did last year, but his average has risen 33 points.
Batting average fluctuates wildly, though, so I wouldn't be surprised to see
Durazo fall back to around .275 by the end of the season. If he bumps his walks
back to last year's rate, though, he can maintain the .400+ OBP he has now.
Hopefully some home run power can come around in the summer, too, but even if it
doesn't, he's a valuable member of the lineup who's doing about what's expected
Mark Ellis started the year hot, but has slumped since then. He's been replaced
with Frank Menechino a few more times lately than he had been earlier in the
year. He's also been dropped to the ninth spot in the lineup, though I'd bat
him in front of Terrence Long if I had the choice. Ellis is 20th in RARP among
second basemen, with 6.6, as he has a .258 EqA and 720 OPS. His walk rate has
declined ever so slightly, and he's lost his triples (he hit four last year, but
none so far this time around), but he's already got five home runs (six last
year), and he's hit one more double (17) than he did in 2002 (16). Where's the
problem? It's almost entirely batting average based. His average has fallen
twenty points, to .252. It's hard to know yet what his true level of ability is
in the BA department, so I don't want to make any predictions about whether
he'll rebound or whether this is what to expect from him.
Frankie Menechino has barely played (49 PA's), though he's put up a .275 EqA in
that time. He's doing his usual thing: walking a lot, not much else. He's a
pretty good option for the bench, especially since he makes so little money and
can play the three hard infield positions. It's good that the team's confidence
in Ellis has not been lost, because more PA's for Frankie wouldn't give
appreciably different results, and Ellis would lose development time, perhaps
along with confidence.
Where did our MVP go? No, not the Yankee. The one that's still with the team.
Of course, Tejada wasn't the MVP of the league, but he was elected so. This
year, though, I don't think anyone would make that mistake. His 709 OPS is
pitiful, and his worst performance since 1998. His walk rate is his best since
2000, and his strikeouts are down as well, but his batting average has fallen
off the planet, to .230. However, his power is still around, and that average
is significantly higher than it was a month ago, so I think Tejada just suffered
through an awful early season slump that he's recovering from now. He's 14th
among shortstops in RARP, but I think he'll finish up in the top 5 or 6, right
around Alex Gonzalez (the Florida one) territory. If this slump had happened in
the middle of the season, we might not even have noticed, but since it happened
at the beginning, we all saw "Oh my gosh, he's hitting .134," and the season is
impacted from there on out.
Eric Chavez has been a little disappointing. His walk rate is down from last
year (which itself was up from 2001, but down from 2000), though he's seeing .1
more pitches per plate appearance this year. Unfortunately, along with losing
25 points of batting average from last year (and 22 from his career norm), he's
lost some power in addition to that. He's hit some home runs and some doubles,
but he's basically just not hitting like the A's need him to hit. He's ranked
10th in RARP, between Aramis Ramirez and Robin Ventura, but the expectation was
that he'd be hitting more like what Troy Glaus and Hank Blalock are hitting.
You'd have to call Chavez the third best third baseman in his division right
now. I do think he'll bounce back as well, though, especially since his "slump"
hasn't been as profound as Tejada's was. Maybe he won't outhit Mike Lowell this
year, but you have to believe he'll get up into Bill Mueller territory at least.
What about the outfield? Eric Byrnes has been a joy. He's tenth in the AL in
EqA, at .332, he's got a 967 OPS, he's behind only Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds,
Melvin Mora, and Manny Ramirez in RARP for left fielders (even though he's
played more center recently), and he's a crowd favorite. Where would this team
be if Terrence Long and Chris Singleton were still everyday players? I don't
want to think about it. Byrnes is the offensive MVP right now.
As good as Byrnes has been, Dye's been that bad. Especially when you consider
how much money Dye is making and how little Byrnes is taking home. Dye's hitting
.164, has a 489 OPS, and only Darren Bragg has cost his team more runs among
right fielders (and that only by .3 runs; the next up from Dye is Danny
Bautista, who's almost four runs ahead). Dye has been hurt, and continues to
need extra rest, but at some point, he has to start hitting. Hell, if nothing
else, I want the A's to get good draft picks when he moves on as a free agent.
About the only good thing I can say about Dye's play so far is that he's still
taking some walks. Let's move on.
Terrence Long was going to regain his stroke when he moved out of the pressures
of center field, wasn't he? How's a 676 OPS sound? Long is in his third
straight year of decline, and he's making Ben Grieve look good. He still doesn't
walk enough, and there's still not enough power. He's durable, and he probably
plays an ok corner outfield, but unless he hits .280, he has no value
whatsoever. Among right fielders (though he's played all over the outfield),
Long is just six spots above Dye in RARP.
Chris Singleton has been something of a pleasant surprise with the bat in the
limited situations where he's been allowed to use it (he's racked up 164 PA this
year). He's got a .266 EqA, which, while obviously not great, results in a
positive RARP. He plays good defense, which is all the team wanted, and he's
hitting close to .300, which is a bonus. The question becomes why Terrence Long
is still even allowed on the field. Singleton is a better defender, he's
probably faster, and he's hitting better. What other phase of the game is
Adam Piatt has continued to embarass me. I thought he could make a comeback
from lack of opportunity and that terrible sickness he experienced.
Unfortunately, he's hitting worse than Terrence Long and has really not earned
any more playing time than he's gotten. I never really had in mind that he'd
become something special, but I thought he could be a regular or semi-regular
player in the major leagues, but every start (and ofer) he gets seems to prove
me wrong one more time.
Billy McMillon only came up recently and hasn't had time to impact things to
this point. I see nothing wrong with McMillon taking playing time from Long and
Piatt, though. Or Dye for that matter, at this point. Singleton, Byrnes, and
McMillon looks like an A's circa 1998 outfield (scrap heap!), but that might be
the best hitting combination there is, and the defense probably wouldn't be too
With all the doom and gloom above, one would think that this was a last place
team. Fortunately, the pitching has been right on target all year. By the
Support Neutral measures, the A's have had the second best starting staff in the
majors, close behind the Dodgers surprise staff. The bullpen, which has long
been a source of stress for A's fans, has steadied this year, resulting in the
fourth highest ARP number in the majors, and the best in the "mortals" category
(behind the unreal work of Houston, Los Angeles, and Anaheim).
Barry Zito's ERA is a little higher than it was last year, but it's still under
three. His OPS against is 18 points lower, and he's dropped his walk rate
again. Unfortunately, he's strikeouts are down, and he's been very lucky in the
BIPR department (just over .200), so I'm a little worried that he's in for a
little decline later in the year. That said, he's fourth in SNWAR, and might be
the A's MVP (it's up between him, Mark Mulder, and Byrnes, I think).
Speaking of Mulder, he's been every bit as good as Zito, and has a gaudier
record to show for it (10-4). He ranks fifth in SNWAR, just .1 behind Zito, and
his 3.26 ERA is 7th in the AL. He's been pretty unlucky in the BIRP category,
so his BA allowed is a little higher than we might expect. He gets ground
balls, he doesn't really walk guys, he's efficient (just 13.8 pitches per
inning) ... what more can you ask? He could make a serious run at the Cy Young
this year, especially if he keeps getting enough run support to get wins when he
should and balls start falling into gloves for him like they do for everyone
Tim Hudson hasn't been quite as good as his counterparts, but he's still 14th in
SNWAR and 8th in the AL in ERA. His strikeout rate is on the decline once more,
but he's getting more ground balls than he did last year, and his walk rate is
essentially the same, so he's still been very successful. He's been unlucky
again, as he's only been handed 5 wins, but perhaps this year and last year are
just making up for his 20 win season in 2000, when he had an ERA over 4. I'd
like to see Hudson be more efficient, but he's only slightly worse in that
department than last year, which is significantly better than the two years that
preceded that, and he's still pitching pretty deep into games (2nd in innings in
the AL), so I can't complain too much.
Ted Lilly has not provided the fourth elite pitcher fans hoped for, but can one
really complain about a basically league average fourth pitcher who has more
potential than most to bust out and one-hit somebody? Basically, Lilly's been
decent, mostly kept the team in the game, and generally been somebody to not
really worry about.
Aaron Harang is back as the fifth starter, and while his first two starts
weren't good, his first appearance of the year, four innings of shutout relief
of John Halama was good, and his holding of the Giants to two runs in 5.2
innings kept the A's in a game they ended up winning. He's not a bad fifth
starter, and I would have rather had him than Halama in the first place. We'll
see how things proceed, but Harang isn't going to make or break this team.
I might be being a little hard on Halama, though, and the A's might have made a
hasty decision to bullpen him. Before his last start as an Athletic, he had a
4.19 ERA. That game against the Twins bumped it to 4.79, but he's brought it
back down to 4.30 now. No, he's not great, and yes, he was a sub-replacement
pitcher as a starter, but maybe it's more of a tossup between him and Harang
than my bias is letting me say.
Chad Bradford has been great. He's 17th in ARP in baseball, with 10.1, the best
on the team. He gets strikeouts and groundballs, doesn't really walk guys, goes
multiple innings at a time, pitches on consecutive days, and has generally been
a great go-to guy in the bullpen. There are guys who make you cringe when they
walk in, and there are guys who you feel like you can go to the bathroom and
come back with everything stll ok. Bradford is in the latter category.
Keith Foulke has been a steady closer, much nicer than the white-knuckle work of
Billy Koch (who's been terrible with the White Sox) and Jason Isringhausen
(who's been hurt with Cardinals). Foulke's 8 ARP are second on the team. He
gets strikeouts and ground balls, doesn't walk guys, and works very efficiently.
I routinely see 9, 10, 11, and 12 under "pitches" in the box score when he comes
in for a save. He's also capable of working more than an inning at a time,
though he's generally been used as a 'start the ninth' guy this year. Without a
doubt, a big part of Oakland's success.
I'm tired. Maybe I'll finish this later. Then again, the rest of the parts
aren't so important. Ricardo Rincon and Jim Mecir are maybe the only two
important pieces I haven't talked about yet. Or Jeremy Fikac, who I forgot
about, but has been sent to the minors. Maybe I'll come back later and talk
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